What Does Caffeine Really Do to Your Brain?

Cup of coffeeDo you need a java jolt to get you going in the morning?

Or soda or energy drinks to keep up your energy?

In my eBook “Top 7 Secrets to Break Free from Anxiety…Without Drugs,” I talk about the relationship between caffeine and anxiety. Any amount of caffeine can be too much for people who are prone to anxiety.

What I’ve found is that many people don’t believe (or want to believe) that caffeine is contributing to their stress, tension, anxiety, fatigue or sleep problems.

Ever wonder whether caffeine really does or does not affect you?

Recently Dr. Daniel Amen published an article explaining the mechanism by which caffeine operates in, and negatively impacts, the brain. This article contains excerpts from his report, so if you’re interested in the brain science behind those daily java jolts, read on…

What Caffeine Does in the Brain

Caffeine works in the brain by interfering with a natural process involving a brain chemical called adenosine. When adenosine is produced in the brain, the brain’s blood vessels dilate, causing neurons to slow down, and inducing drowsiness.

When you drink caffeine, the adenosine receptors are fooled into doing just the opposite of what adenosine normally does: it constricts the brain’s blood vessels, speeds up neuron activity, and signals your body to go on high alert by producing adrenalin.

How and Why It Is Addictive?

This gives you that java jolt, which makes your heart beat faster, your breathing become more shallow, and your muscles tense up. (Did you know these all can also be symptoms of anxiety?)

It also boosts dopamine levels, which activates the pleasure centers in your brain. The bad news is that when the effects of the caffeine wear off, you feel sluggish. So you consume more caffeine to re-energize and a habit is formed.

Long Term Negative Impact on the Brain

What happens to the adenosine receptor system when you consume large amounts of caffeine on a regular basis? New research shows that habitually high caffeine intake (about 950mg a day) eventually causes reduced blood flow to the brain.

Dr. Amen says: “After years of studying brain scans, I can assure you that reduced cerebral blood flow leads to brain drain. It lowers cognitive function and can exacerbate emotional and mental health problems. It can also wreak havoc with your sleep system and reduce the amount of deep sleep you get at night, leaving you feeling even more fatigued.”

Take One Step Now

Macro of a can of sodaPlease don’t underestimate the effect of caffeine on your body and your brain.

If you take in caffeine regularly, focus on cutting back and then eliminating it altogether. Because caffeine is an addictive substance, withdrawal can lead to headaches and fatigue, which can be reduced by slowly decreasing your intake week by week. You might consider enlisting the help of a medical or wellness professional to ease the process.

Waiting for the perfect time to cut back? Or to switch to decaf?

The perfect time to start is always in the present moment. Taking one step…any step at all…gets you on your way!

[Acknowledgment for excerpts and content for this article: “Copyright 2008, Amen Clinic Inc., A Medical Corporation. All rights reserved.”]